Leader’s disgrace reveals dark underbelly of entrepreneur ‘ecosystem’
If something or somebody gives you agita, it’s no gift. It means you feel rumblings of nausea in your gut and low-grade indigestion of the mind and spirit. Agita has a slight heft – it weighs on you like a wet blanket – and it’s grimy. The news about Jess Knox last week gives me agita. And it comes in waves like a bad hangover.
Social media is like a boozy punch bowl made with cheap liquor and orange sherbet – it looks good but makes you sick. Online, Jess Knox is a cutting-edge business guru of the highest rank in the pecking order who preaches “entrepreneur” hocus-pocus to an adoring flock that constantly refers to itself as an “ecosystem.” On social media, Knox is cheerleader in chief for notable causes and rising stars and cool stuff. He posts beautiful photos, shares his joys and fears and expresses his feelings. It looked so sweet.
In a text message, one prominent political insider put it to me this way: “Man, I don’t know if I have any thoughts other than personal disappoint over people (men) who create this ‘woke’ persona (e.g. see his prolific IG and FB posts over the past couple years) and aren’t walking the talk. Just shut the fuck up about your woke state if you’re out there doing this stuff.”
One particular Facebook post, from last March, shows Stephanie Brock with Knox and another member of the “ecosystem” at a business-type event. Brock’s caption on the public post says: “Blessed and grateful to collaborate with these two.”
Last Tuesday, Brock said on Facebook, “I came forward just shy of a week ago to alert the boards and direct supporters of Venture Hall and Maine Startup and Create Week that I had been on the receiving end of inappropriate behavior (repeated, documented innuendo and attempted physical contact) by Jess Knox. I did so after hearing that there were other women with similar experiences. I struggle with the coldness of this statement, because as many of you know, I have been a friend and supporter of Jess, his family and his projects for the past three years.”
Later the same day, Knox admitted inappropriate behavior with two unnamed women at work.
What’s depressing about the March post is that Brock either did at that time feel “blessed” to work with Knox and was thereafter betrayed, or she was feigning feeling blessed for whatever reason – self-preservation seems most likely.
“The fact remains that I am one of several women that have had to maneuver and manage our way through our relationship with Jess because of the position he’s taken in Maine’s small business ecosystem,” Brock wrote.
The response by Venture Hall – a Knox-led nonprofit that had just gotten a $475,000 grant to essentially lobby lawmakers about “business-friendly” policies – is even more of a downer. According to its website, Venture Hall “made the difficult decision to cease operations” following Knox’s decision to resign “for personal reasons.” But although the grant was withdrawn, “we are confident that our ecosystem is deep and robust enough that another organization will emerge to continue this important work with a clear vision and a new brand.”
“Ecosystem”? Please. The techno mumbo-jumbo gives me agita. Sounds like Venture Hall was an old-fashioned shark tank and “ecosystem” just another word for “clique.” An exclusive group that Jess Knox led until he didn’t.
Talk about “changemaking” and “innovation” is all smoke and mirrors when it comes to professional relationships between men and women. What’s supposed to be a groovy new ecosystem offers women the same-old, same-old: missed opportunities and harassment.
As our womanizer business-guy president likes to say, it’s so sad!
“It breaks my heart to see my friend (Jess Knox) allegedly bring this upon himself, but he is a gatekeeper in a community and he traffics opportunities. With doing so comes a great deal of responsibility and I am in the corner of those who have gotten taken advantage of, silenced, slowed down, and everything in between,” Alex Steed said on Facebook.
And speaking of silence – Earth to Don Gooding! – another apparent giant in the “ecosystem” who responded to the story about Knox and women by placing himself at its front and center on social media.
First, there was the humble-brag: “At least I know I created a safe workplace for women, and I’ve backed women entrepreneurs because of their talents. But was that enough?”
Then came the assumption:
“Given today’s events in the Maine entrepreneur ecosystem, I think we all need to start meeting to figure out our way forward. I’m not asserting leadership, just a call to action. So I’m going to tag a bunch of you and hopefully we can have a series of meetings over the next month or two,” wrote Gooding on Facebook, tagging over 40 women (only).
Seriously? This is change? Meetings, and maybe some mansplaining via PowerPoint? Please pass the Tums.
The whole thing looks and feels gross. What’s innovative about a man calling on women to do the grunt work of solving a problem that men created?
“Woke” guys doing stupid stuff. It’s the same. Old. Song.
As published in the Portland Press Herald